EZRA AND NEHEMIAH, BOOKS OF.
- I. Transmission of the Text.
- 1. The Arabic Version.
- Ezra Based on the Septuagint (§ 1).
- Nehemiah a Revised Syriac (§ 2).
2. The Syriac Version.
- 3. The Greek Version.
- Its Fidelity to the Hebrew (§ 1).
- The Corrections Traced to Their Source (§ 2).
4. The Latin Version.
5. The Hebrew Text.
II. Composition of the Books.
- Analysis of the Books (§ 1).
- The Sources Employed (§ 2).
- The Author's Purpose (§ 3).
I. Transmission of the Text.
1. The Arabic Version:
(1). Ezra Based on the Septuagint.
In the London Polyglot the two books bear the title "First and Second Books of Ezra the Priest," and there are indications that the two books were translated by different hands. This is substantiated by the fact that Ezra was translated from the Septuagint and Nehemiah from the Syriac. As a result, the text is untrustworthy. But while misunderstanding of the basal text is frequent and mistakes are numerous, it is clear that the Septuagint was by the translator regarded as authoritative, especially the recension represented by the Alexandrine and Vatican codices, particularly by the former.
(2). Nehemiah a Revised Syriac.
The text of Nehemiah is much shortened, and that this is not due to gaps in the exemplar before the translator is shown by his especial dislike for the lists of names; e.g., Neh. vii. 6-72 is omitted for the stated reason that it duplicates Ezra ii., and for the names given after Pashhur (Neh. x. 3) to xii. 27 he substitutes "and the remainder of their company," and similar omissions occur in the lists of the builders in chap. iii. as also in chap. xii. 33-34, 41. The traces of origin from the Syriac are exceedingly numerous, consisting not merely in the transference of renderings peculiar to that version but in construction and arrangement and in misunderstanding of the original text. To these must be added the fact that the Arabic has errors which can be explained only from a misreading or misunderstanding of the Syriac. Yet it must be remarked that in the passages in Nehemiah which have parallels in Ezra, the Arabic translator of the former was influenced by the Arabic of the latter.
While the principal dependence of the translator of Nehemiah was the Syriac, there are evidences also of other influences. This is shown by the form the name Geshem takes in ii. 13, by the departure from the Syriac text in the corrupt passage iv. 23, by agreement with the Septuagint against the Syriac in vi. 18, by the late form of the word "Siloam" in iii. 15; by the probability that "Bethlehem" in iii. 14 is derived from the Greek Bethacham (for Hebr. Beth-Hakkarem), and by the fact that in xii. 39 "strong-gate" (for Hebr. "fish-gate") misreads the Greek ischuran "strong" for ichthuran "fish." There appears in a number of cases reference to the original Hebrew, often accompanied by true exegetical insight, correcting the sometimes senseless reading of the Syriac and of the Septuagint. Such a case is presented in the literal rendering of the Hebrew "behind their backs" (ix. 26), and another in iv. 10 in the rendering "The heart of the Jews was bold and the bearers of rubbish were many, but we could not build." So an attempt is made to improve on the Syriac rendering of xiii. 24 by translating "spake half Hebrew, half Aramaic, according to the language of the heathen." The Arabic translation has therefore a mixed character and varying worth.
2. The Syriac Version: Here the printed text is often untrustworthy. An arbitrary change is made in pointing "kingdoms" as plural in Neh. ix. 22 against all the witnesses, while Ndamyah is read for Hebrew Yramyah and Syriac Nramyah in Neh. xii. 34. Similar mistakes appear in Ezra vii. 5-6, viii. 1; Neh. iv. 23, and elsewhere. Instances occur, however, in which the original Syriac is corrected after the Hebrew text, as in Neh. viii. 15-16 in the alteration of the words "when they heard" to "that they should hear"; while in Neh. ii. 13 the Syriac "hill-fountain" is a slip of the pen for "dragon-fountain." But the Syriac has also a preference for the ending "-el" instead of "-yah" in names compounded with the name of God, e.g., in Neh. xii. 26 "Nehemiah" appears as "Nehemel." Double translations also occur, as in Ezra ix. 7; also paraphrases instead of translations as in vii. 9, 28, viii, 18, 31. The rendering is not consistent, the same word in the original being translated by different words in different passages. Parallels in other books of the Bible are drawn upon for illustration by way of paraphrase, as when Num. xiv. 4 is employed in Neh. ix. 17. Misunderstandings of the original are numerous; as when the place-name Addan is translated "at that time" (Ezra ii. 59), or "the tower of the furnaces" is displaced by "the neglected tower" (Neh. iii. 11), while the figure of "shaking the lap" in Neh. v. 13 is totally misapprehended. The word "servants" presented such difficulties for the translator that he translated it at one time "sons" (Neh. v. 16), at another time as a proper name (Ezra ii. 58), though in the parallel to the last passage (Neh. vii. 57) he translated correctly.
3. The Greek Version: There are many indications that the work of the translators Aquila and Theodotion have been embodied in the text of the Septuagint. But the character of the translation in the two books is so different that evidently two hands have done the work.
(1). Its Fidelity to the Hebrew.
Nehemiah often shows a strong feeling for the Septuagint method of rendering as opposed to that of Aquila, as when in ix. 7 all the manuscripts read for "Ur of the Chaldees" "the land of the Chaldees." This tendency is obscured both in Swete's text and in Lagarde's; and unfortunately Swete's undertaking to give the text of codex B as the groundwork of his text is not consistently carried out, a fault which is somewhat mitigated by the giving of notes which enable one to correct the text. Lagarde's text is especially full of errors, particularly such as seem due to oversight in proof-reading. A comparison of the texts of codices A B with S from Ezra ix. 9 on shows that in the first there is an endeavor to reproduce the Hebrew or Aramaic with so great fidelity that regard for Greek grammar has often gone by the board, and when even that would fail, the original is transliterated. This attempt at fidelity is especially notable in proper names, as when Smorn is read instead of the usual Greek form Samareia. A further result of this comparison shows that the three codices go back upon a common exemplar. This conclusion is not vitiated by the differences which exist between these codices, since many of them are explicable by mistakes of the eye and the ear, by dittography, or omission caused by catching the same word in a passage further along. And further, the archetype of these three codices must have exhibited the qualities noted, especially an intelligent and well-directed desire for a faithful reproduction of the Hebrew and Aramaic text. Many of the changes in the individual codices are due to attempts to correct and make intelligible the strange combinations brought about by this desire for fidelity.
(2). The Corrections Traced to Their Source.
Of this class are the corrections noted by Tischendorf and Swete in the St. Petersburg codex, and the source of these corrections has been discovered in a manuscript seen by Pamphilus. These corrections are seen at their best in Neh. xi., in which the gaps are filled in which made of the Greek text a mere torso, and in Neh. xii where only the first of the four classes of priests were given. So that the extant Greek text has reached its present condition through processes of smoothing, of correction by comparison with the original and through glosses which have been incorporated into the text. Under the Lucian text must be seen the text of Origen, and into the latter were taken the additions of Theodotion. In this way can be explained the differences between the Lucian text and that of the manuscript of Pamphilus.
In the Greek, as in the Syriac, there are numerous double renderings, explainable on the ground of glosses brought into the text, a notable case of which is found in which "nor we" is introduced before "kept thy law" (Neh. ix. 34.) Sometimes the lengthened text is due to a comparison of a parallel text or to reference to a passage which was thought illustrative.
4. The Latin Version: This exemplifies very much the same errors in transmission as have come to light in examination of the other versions. Inconsistent translations of the same expression occur (cf. Neh. xii. 31, 40 with verse 38). On the other hand Jerome renders by the same expression different words (cf. Neh. viii. 7 and 11, silentium faciebant). And apparent lacunæ are filled in to make the Latin construction complete. He did not follow blindly the instruction of his Jewish teachers, often following the Greek; sometimes rendering mistakenly, as when he wrote de igne Chaldæorum for "Ur of the Chaldees." But his main reliance was the Hebrew text and the Greek versions which came nearest to it. Sometimes he combined in a conflate reading the rendering of two versions, as in Ezra i. 11, where the readings of Lucian and the Septuagint are united. Occasionally where a word was ambiguous, two possible renderings are presented (Neh. v. 10 b, 11 b).
5. The Hebrew Text: The foregoing study of the versions gives as a result the greater value of the Hebrew and Aramaic, though the errors are numerous. For errors and omissions in the text the pseudo-Ezra is sometimes serviceable (Ezra v. 15). Many of the lacunæ in the text are evident, and occasionally the evident completion of the sense may be gathered from the context (Ezra iii. 12-13). It is quite likely that the lacuna between Ezra iv. 23 and 24 is not to be laid to the charge of the author, but to carelessness or to arbitrariness on the part of copyists. That changes have taken place in the person of the verb, particularly from the first to the third, is one of the matters of which note must be taken in a critical discussion of the text.
II. Composition of the Books:
1. Analysis of the Books.
This is understood both by the arrangement of the material and by its nature. The one book Ezra-Nehemiah is the second half of a large work, of which I and II Chronicles are the first half. The divisions of Ezra-Nehemiah are Ezra i.-vi., vii.-x., Nehemiah i.-xiii. These three parts are constructed on the same plan, each narrating the story of a return of the Jews under special authority and with grants from the Persian kings under Zerubbabel and Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah, and telling the weighty consequences for the temple community in the Holy Land. There resulted the completion of the temple, the restoration of the public service, the binding together of the community by prohibition of foreign marriages, the securing of political independence of the neighboring peoples through completion of the wall of the repeopled capital, and adoption by the community of the law-book of Moses (Ezra vi., x.; Neh. iii. sqq., viii.).
2. The Sources Employed.
These results are interwoven into the history of the times. The first step was taken under Cyrus and continued under Darius, the second in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, the third in the twentieth and thirty-second year of the same Artaxerxes. The Persian succession was well known to the author, who in Ezra iv. 5-7 names successively Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes. During that period fell the decrees which were the legal basis of the Jewish community and the contests the successful issue of which consolidated that community and impressed upon it a distinctive character. The seventh year of the Artaxerxes of Ezra vii. can not be regarded as the seventh year of an Artaxerxes who lived some sixty years later under whom the events of Neh. i.-xiii. happened. Nor may it be held that the author dealt with fictitious dates and decrees. Such suspicions are excluded by the quality of the material, which the writer has brought together and made to serve his purpose. The books are a mosaic. The author doubtless obtained the list of the returning exiles from the Books of the Kings of Israel and Judah. He also employed the "Memoirs" of Ezra, those of Nehemiah, and a reputed report of Tabeel and his companions (Ezra iv. 7) directed to Artaxerxes. Here the Masoretic text is the result of a complete misunderstanding. The author of it made out of the original "with the permission of Mithredath" the series "Bishlam, Mithredath," producing a triple authorship for a document which is only referred to and not given, since the document in Ezra iv. 11-16 is specifically stated to be by others (verses 8-9). It is to be noted also that iv. 12 refers to the building of the city and iv. 24 to the building of the temple, and that if the traditional theory were correct, the author would have confused entirely different events and blended the accounts as though they referred to one and the same thing. Similarly out of the reports of Nehemiah, narrated in the first person, the writer built up a story in which seven successive steps in the progress of the work of re-building the wall appear, which is a reconstruction by the Chronicler of the order of events as they probably lay in the original documents. Into this is woven an account of the introduction of the law-book, explained by the union of efforts by Ezra and Nehemiah for that purpose. This part is probably taken as an excerpt from the memoirs of Ezra.
3. The Author's Purpose.
In defense of the author's stylistic method it must be remembered that he was writing for his contemporaries, probably using documents stored in the Jewish archives; that he was not concerned with historical matters of detail the interest in which is great to moderns; and that he had a comprehensive view of the whole work of restoration of the Jewish commonwealth, which he put forward in the shape of a mosaic the joining of which is not always close and the parts of which are not well coordinated. It was his idea to set forth that as the Samaritans of the time of Zerubbabel hindered the work commanded by Cyrus, so they continued their attempts at hindrance in the days of Artaxerxes. He desired in his notes of time (Ezra vii. 1; Neh. i. 1, ii. 1, viii.-xiii.) to indicate the cooperation of Ezra and Nehemiah in the work. The question has been raised whether the narrative as it stands is the result of wilful perversion of the sources, or of misunderstanding, or whether it conforms to the facts. Nehemiah reports that to him had come sad accounts of the ruinous state of the walls and city of Jerusalem; the apology of Tabeel narrates that the work of reconstruction had been prohibited and forcibly prevented through a denunciation to the Artaxerxes who sent Jews back to Jerusalem. But who could be so influential and so secure in bringing about the restoration of Jerusalem as those who had come with letters missive from the king directed to the accomplishment of this task of restoration? The general outline of history as made out by the author agrees with the facts as presented by his sources.